Validation at last for bunions and dwindling bank balances... men really do find heels sexy, writes Deirdre Reynolds.
A study published last month by the Archives of Sexual Behaviour shows that men find women in stilettos sexier than those in flats.
And they’re even more likely to dash to the aid of a damsel in distress the higher her heels.
“Women’s shoe heel size exerts a powerful influence on men’s behaviour,” explains behavioural scientist Nicolas Guéguen of the Université de Bretagne-Sud (University of South Brittany), who conducted the research.
“Simply put, they make women more beautiful.
“As a man I can see that I prefer to see my wife when she wears high heels and many men in France have the same evaluation.
“The results showed that high heels were associated with greater sexiness, overall physical attractiveness, beauty, attractiveness to other men, and willingness [to] date.”
For those of us who’ve splashed multiple pay cheques on vertiginous heels over the years, developing bunions and blisters in the name of beauty along the way, it’s validation at last.
Blame Cinderella or Carrie Bradshaw, but the average Irish woman owns 21 pairs of shoes — including nine pairs she never wears — one recent study by footwear label DUO found.
By her mid-40s, Miss Average will also have splashed €8,250 on putting her best foot forward.
“I’m a complete shoe addict,” says stylist and personal shopper Naomi Clarke of The Style Fairy (www.thestylefairy.ie).
“I probably have around 40 pairs. Even if you’re having a ‘fat day’, your shoes always fit!
“As a personal shopper, I’m on my feet all day, so daytime it has to be flats for me. Every chance I get though, I bust out my heels, and really don’t feel dressed up without them.
“My husband claims not to notice whether I’m wearing heels or flats,” adds the 31 year-old, “but I know he prefers me in heels. It’s probably because I feel more confident and glamorous in heels — and it shows.”
At 5ft 2in, like lots of shortstops, I also rely on sky-high heels to get ahead in life, and easily own two dozen pairs.
But do they really make me more attractive to the opposite sex ?
Tottering down Dublin’s Grafton St in 3.5in black stilettos — the kind found by the French study to pique men’s interest — I can’t claim to have been chased by 93% of fellas after dropping a glove, like the 19-year-old model used by Guéguen. But then we are talking about pragmatic Irish men and not their romantic French counterparts.
In fact, it was a young woman in her 20s — herself struggling in fetishistic footwear — who alerted me to the fact that my mitt had gone missing.
As a life-long lover of heels, more interesting to me was the fact that it was only after switching from my €75 Aldo court shoes to my €100 Carvela slipper pumps that an older gentleman held the lift of a busy office block for me, ushering me on and off first.
Nonetheless, Irish guys confess they’re head over heels for women in heels.
“Marilyn Monroe got it right when she said ‘Give a girl the right shoes, and she can conquer the world,’ reckons Declan Curtis, general manager of The Morgan Hotel in Dublin. “Whenever a woman in high heels walks into the Morgan Bar, head turn — I see it all the time.
“There’s nothing more attractive than a confident woman,” adds the married father-of-two, who’s in his 40s, “and sky high heels tend to give women an air of confidence.”
Former Mr Ireland Leo Delaney adds: “I definitely think a woman in heels is way more attractive. I don’t know what it is, but I much prefer a woman in heels than flats.”
Dubliner Seán Earley, 27, Head of Creative at digital marketing agency New/Slang, isn’t so sure: “At the not-so-towering height of 5ft 7in, the whole ‘girls in heels’ thing isn’t a big draw for me.
“But while I’m happy to avoid Tom Cruise/Nicole Kidman syndrome, I must admit my fiancée looks very hot in a pair of modestly-elevated heels!”
Created by a male designer, Roger Vivier in 1954, and oft since deforming women’s feet in the name of fashion, for some, stilettos are a step backwards for feminism. Or as author Sue Grafton put it: “If high heels were so wonderful, men would be wearing them.”
Others, like American supermodel Veronica Webb, argue they’re the ultimate symbol of female empowerment — putting the wearer’s “ass on a pedestal, where it belongs”.
A study by Portsmouth University has shown how skyscrapers force women to swagger sexily, by taking shorter strides and swinging their hips more.
“From an evolutionary perspective, I think there are probably a couple of reasons why [women in] high heels look attractive to men,” British evolutionary psychologist Dylan Evans told Feelgood.
“One is that it accentuates a woman’s curves, which men are evolved to find attractive because the shapeliness of a woman’s body is related to the amount of oestrogen. So it’s not merely cultural that men like looking at things like bottoms and thighs, it’s actually a way for them to accurately gauge the fertility of a woman.
“Something I also speculate about is what evolutionary psychologists call the handicap principle,” adds the author of Introducing Evolution.
“The handicap principle is found in nature, for example, the way in which a peacock’s tail makes them more visible to predators and less able to escape. But precisely because it’s a handicap, only the strongest peacocks can display a big tail and get away with it — it sort of directly demonstrates their fitness.
“I wonder whether high heels might be something like that for women in the sense that it requires a great degree of balance and coordination to be able to walk elegantly in high heels.”
When it comes to dating —and mating — modern matchmaker Avril Mulcahy agrees that heels can help single women to get ahead: “As a professional matchmaker, I listen to what men want on a daily basis, and I’m telling you that looks are a deal-breaker when a man first meets a woman,” says Avril, whose new dating guide, Go Get Him, is published today.
“Women who are great at dating know that it’s important to make what’s on the outside look just as good as what’s on the inside.
“Heels are just one way to show confidence and femininity — both attributes that men look for in a woman.”
Despite measuring 5ft 9in in her stockinged feet, Dublin-based model Lena Zellerhoff says she loves the confidence boost she gets from her skyscrapers — but admits her boyfriend prefers her in flats.
“With my highest heels on, I’m actually a little taller than my boyfriend,” says Lena . “He doesn’t mind. But I’m sure if he had the choice, he’d prefer me in flats!”
With flatforms and gladiator sandals among the top footwear trends for spring/summer, it remains to be seen whether women here will remain faithful to their high heels this season.
When RTÉ weather presenter Audrey McGrath walks down the aisle in June however, it’s sure to be in stilettos.
“Like most ladies, I love my high heels,” says bride-to-be Audrey who hails from Cork. “It’s being practical about the size of the heel that’s my biggest challenge. I must have at least 10 pairs of ‘car to bar’ shoes which have hardly ever been worn in my wardrobe.
“For me, heels add an air of femininity to any outfit,” she says. “Men definitely respond differently to a lady in heels, partly because of the confidence we exude in them, but also because of the curves they create.
“Although he’s probably not even aware of it, there’s always an extra glint in my fiancé Kev’s eye when I throw on a pair of high heels,” jokes Audrey.
“But it’s my own love affair with heels which will have me walking down the aisle in them — now I just have to find the perfect pair!”
Pumps can damage your feet
A recent study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that women who regularly wear high heels are at risk of causing long-term damage to their knees, hips, back and tendons. This is because the shoe forces a woman to place all of her body weight on the ball of her foot.
However, pumps may not be any better.
‘Pump bumps’, known as Haglund’s Deformity to podiatrists, cause pain across the soles of the feet, as well as ankle and calf pain; some of the most common problems with flat shoes, says podiatrist Tariq Khan of Carnation Footcare.
Ill-fitting shoes — particularly ballet pumps that are often bought too small so that they stay on the feet — can cause ‘pump bumps’ which then apply pressure to the back of the heel, irritating the tissue over time and causing it to become inflamed, which can be very painful.
Flat shoes can also put a strain on the back of the legs and ankles, as they overstretch the calf muscle.
Flat, thin soles provide very little arch support, meaning heels strike the ground harder, and feet can easily roll in excessively. Like heels, ballet pumps should only be worn for limited periods of time.
Ideally, a low, wide heel of about 1.5 inches should be worn as they will ease pressure on the calf muscle. This can also be achieved by adding a heel pad into the shoe.
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